To stretch, or not to stretch. That is the question…
Ever wondered about stretching pre or post activity? There are so many questions – what type of stretching, how long for, how often and when should you stretch that it all tends to be overlooked.
But does it actually decrease your chance of injury?
Research leans towards the dynamic or moving type stretching– leg swings, arm swings, body twists and functional movement patterns relevant to the sport to then better activate the muscles. For example, leg swings front and back are known to benefit explosive type movements of running or football, whereas arm and back swings will help those in golf or swimming. It is best done prior to exercise, where it acts to “warm up” our muscles – increasing blood flow and flexibility whilst stimulating our brain to get ready for the activity it’s about to perform. Generally for an hour of exercise you should dedicate 10-15 mins of dynamic warm up. This can also include a slow jog, whole body exercises of dynamic stretching and movement patterns as well as coordination skills required for the activity.
The argument for stretching is contentious. Research is moving away from the static, or still, type of stretching initially, as the muscles and ligaments haven’t had a “warm up.” The body has an inherent mechanism for protection. It stops us from injuring ourselves by pushing too far into the stretch when it becomes painful and possibly tear. This is where that dynamic movement comes into play prior to exercise.
Post activity, the cool down is just as important as the warm up. Here, we are trying to lower the heart rate, cool the body down and start our recovery. Whilst there are some reports that static stretching can help at this stage to prevent muscle soreness, the results are unclear generally.
General static stretching on most days of the week can play a role in increasing overall flexibility. We can improve this by gradually moving along that border of stretch “good” pain and being careful not to cross that line into “bad” stretch pain category. Holding for 15-30 seconds and repeating 2-4 times over the day can make us more flexible. This in turn, can decrease our risk of injury when returning to sport.
So! Warming up with dynamic movement pre activity and post activity performing an appropriate cool down will decrease our risks of injury. The in between days, static stretching can help increase our overall flexibility so we can remain injury free.